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How to Overcome IBS Embarrassment
When you live with irritable bowel syndrome, it’s nearly impossible to shake the embarrassment. Frantic trips to the bathroom, worse case scenarios running through your mind, gurgling overtures and passing gas — or worse — at the wrong times is part of daily life. Ultimately, a relatively small pain can have big consequences on your emotional health and social life.
Treatment for IBS can be unreliable and so embarrassing episodes can be unpredictable, but they don’t have to overshadow your personality. Smart preparation, a bit more attention to your body, and a good plan for damage control can help you handle your IBS symptoms with a lot less shame.
Getting to Know Your Problem
The more you know about your IBS, the better. But it takes more than learning about the disease, you need to learn about your disease. Begin by pinpointing your triggers, and figure out some smart ways to get around them.
Do Your Homework
Get in deeper touch with your relationship to food. A good first step is a detailed food journal, a log of what you eat, how you felt afterwards, and if when those symptoms started.
You may begin to see a pattern, or uncover some hidden ingredients that spark discomfort (wheat, dairy and spices are common culprits). Revisit your journal often to remind yourself what to watch out for.
Face the Facts
Obviously, you don’t want to broadcast your IBS to the world, but it’s important not to deny its existence either. You didn’t choose IBS, nor did you do anything to bring it on; it may be your burden to bear, but it is not your fault.
IBS makes life uncomfortable for you, and that’s enough to worry about. Rather than fretting about how other people may react if you’re unable to control your symptoms, try to explain your condition to the people in your life. You might be surprised at how little they know of IBS – and how sympathetic they are once they begin to understand how it affects you.
Prepare for the Worst, but Expect the Best
IBS constipation and diarrhea each bring their own set of embarrassing situations, and while you likely may not be able to avoid these episodes altogether, you can gather the tools to deal with them quickly and comfortably. Physical preparation is part of it, but your attitude can also have a big impact, and may even reduce the severity of your symptoms.
- Play it safe. When you’re out, be extremely careful about complex menu items — the more ingredients that go into a dish, the more difficult it is to sidestep potential triggers. Stick to simple dishes that you know well, and ask lots of questions so you know exactly what you’re ordering.
- Scout the Facilities. You may tend to look out for the washroom right away when you enter a new place, and that’s a good idea. Go one step farther and visit the washroom as soon as you can: once you know what to expect (how many stalls there are, how private the space is, etc.) the more you can put your mind at ease.
- Pack for emergencies. You certainly hope you’ll never need to use it, but an emergency clean-up kit is a very good idea. Pack a re-sealable plastic bag with wet wipes, a spare pair of underwear, and a couple of smaller plastic bags for discreet disposal. It’s good insurance in case an accident happens, but simply knowing that the supplies are there can be very reassuring.
- Treat your anxiety. Stress can make digestive distress a lot worse, so don’t let it rule your mind. Practice relaxation exercises, and if you cannot seem to control your anxiety, look to deeper therapies for help. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), progressive muscle relaxation, and in some cases, anxiety medication can bring the relief you need to gain more control over your symptoms.
Just as anxiety over “what ifs” can make your IBS worse, distraction can be a powerful antidote to symptoms. If visualization doesn’t work for you, try water: sipping on fresh water can help to ward off dehydration that comes with diarrhea and will ease the pressure of constipation, but it brings a psychological benefit, too. The act of drinking water can alleviate some of the panic that comes with the stirrings of gas pain or a gurgling stomach, providing a happy — and healthy — distraction.
Lean on Your Friends
IBS is as common as it is embarrassing, and there are plenty of people out there who know just what you’re going through. Reach out to your peers to help you get through the bad times. Simply talking about your concerns and embarrassments can take a big weight off your shoulders, and put your IBS embarrassment in context.
It can be difficult to laugh at such a messy problem, but a supportive community can help you stay lighthearted about your IBS, and that will make a difference in the long run. If you can learn to not take yourself so seriously, you will have a happier, more comfortable life — it’s that simple!
Not everyone you come across will understand your problems, and some people may judge you, but having even one or two people behind you will give you more strength and confidence than you may imagine. The first step to a less embarrassing life is to surround yourself with positivity and understanding, and match that support with a forgiving self-image.